Foliage Instanced Meshes

Foliage Tool

The Foliage Instanced Mesh system allows you to quickly paint or erase sets of Static Meshes on Landscape Actors, other Static Mesh Actors, and BSP geometry. These meshes are automatically grouped together into batches that are rendered using hardware instancing, meaning that many instances can be rendered with only a single draw call.

For examples of the Foliage tool in action, see the Foliage section of the Landscapes Content Examples Content Example.

Foliage Edit Mode

To use the Foliage tool, click the Foliage button (Shift+4) in the Modes panel.


The Foliage Edit Mode window appears in the Modes panel.


Mesh List

The Mesh List is the area in which Static Meshes that are to be used as foliage are placed. To add a Static Mesh to the Mesh List, you must drag the Static Mesh from the Content Browser into the area that says Drop Foliage Here.

The yellow Foliage Type will only be displayed when you are trying to add the correct actor type. If you do not see this, then what you are trying to add will not work.

To adjust the properties of a Static Mesh that is used as foliage, select the Static Mesh in the Mesh List and then press the small Magnifying Glass icon in the lower right-hand corner of the foliage tool. This will expose the selected Static Meshes details.

Once pressed, you should see something that looks similar to the image below.

Selecting Foliage Meshes in the Mesh List

Foliage Meshes in the Mesh list can be enabled or disabled by hovering the mouse over the mesh in the list and then checking or unchecking the checkmark box in the upper left-hand corner.

You can also select Foliage Meshes by clicking on them in the Mesh list. This will put an orange highlight around them and then, in the options panel below, you can adjust various properties.

Brush Settings

In the Meshes list (pictured above), the Mesh Edit Tool displays properties related to the foliage tool that is currently selected. (Not every setting is displayed with every foliage tool.)



Brush Size

The size of the brush in Unreal units.

Paint Density

The target density at which you will add instances when using Left Mouse button.

  • This is a value from 0 to 1 where 1 paints mesh instances at the maximum density listed in the Mesh Properties for each mesh (see below).

  • If the density of meshes in the brush is already greater than this, no meshes will be added.

Erase Density

The target density you would like to achieve when you erase instances using Ctrl+Shift+click.

  • This is a value from 0 to 1 where 0 represents no meshes and 1 represents the maximum density listed in the Mesh Properties for each mesh (see below). If there are fewer meshes than this desired erase density, no more meshes will be erased.

  • This allows you to thin out meshes already painted without completely removing all instances.

The checkmark boxes you see with the names Landscape, Static Meshes, BSP and Translucent determine which Actor type the Foliage meshes will be placed on when the tool is used. Checking a box will indicate that a Foliage mesh should be added should you use the tool on that Actor type. Unchecking a box will indicate that a foliage mesh should not be added to that Actor type.

Tablet pressure sensitivity is also supported. The pen pressure will modulate the number of foliage mesh instances added or removed after all other parameters are considered.

Foliage Tools

There are five tools available by selecting the appropriate button in the Toolbar at the top of the foliage window.



Paint Tool

Paint tool - used for adding and removing foliage instances from the world.

Reapply Tool

Reapply tool - used to change the parameters of instances already painted in the world.

Select Tool

Selection tool - used to select individual instances, for moving, deleting etc.

Paint Select Tool

Lasso tool - used to select many instances using the paint brush.

Fill Tool

Fill Tool - used to determine the number of meshes to place with the Paint tool.

Paint Tool

Paint Tool

The Paint tool is Foliage Edit Mode's default tool. You can use it to paint instances of the Static Meshes in the Meshes list in your level. When Foliage Edit Mode is active, a transparent sphere brush is drawn in the level indicating where the foliage brush will operate. In the image below, you can see an example of what the Foliage paint brush looks like.

Foliage painting also works in the VR Editor. For the controls for Foliage painting in VR, see the VR Mode Controls.

To add foliage to the brush area:

  • Hold down the Left Mouse button and click where you want to add foliage. All currently selected meshes in the mesh list will be added according to their current parameters and settings.

When painting meshes, the engine performs a number of line traces inside the sphere parallel to your viewing direction, meaning any surface you can see inside the sphere will be a potential target for foliage instances.

To erase foliage from the brush area:

  • Hold down Shift and Left Mouse button and click where you want to remove foliage.

Paint Settings

Each Static mesh in the Mesh List has a number of properties that control how instances are placed, scaled or rotated when the selected Static mesh is painted. The properties are accessible by selecting the Static Mesh or Static Meshes you want in the Mesh List and then adjusting the properties displayed below.

Here is a high-level description of what each section is used for:




This is where you input which type of Static Mesh should be used.


This is where you can adjust properties like the minimum distance between foliage meshes, the density at which meshes will be added and if the Foliage meshes should be scaled.


This controls how the Foliage meshes will be placed when painted in the level.

Instance Settings

This allows you to adjust the behavior of this instance and not use properties derived from the Static Mesh in the Content Browser.

Reapply Tool

Reapply Tool

The Reapply tool allows you to selectively change certain parameters for Foliage meshes already placed in the world. When you paint over Foliage meshes with the Reapply tool active, the Foliage meshes that are selected in the Mesh List will be updated to reflect the changes made in the Reapply tool.

If a checkbox is set, the corresponding parameter will be reapplied when painting the brush over existing instances. Most settings are the same as when using the Paint Tool, however, there are a few differences:




This is where you input which type of Static Mesh should be used.


This is where you override what should happen when you are adding Foliage meshes to the level.


This is where you override how Foliage meshes are placed in the level.

Select Tool

Select Tool

When the Select tool is active, you can select individual instances of foliage meshes by clicking on them. You can select multiple Foliage meshes at a time by holding down the Ctrl button while clicking on Foliage meshes in the level.

Once instances have been selected you can perform the following actions on them.



Drag a widget axis

The selected instances will move following the widget, be rotated or scaled depending on the widget mode.

Alt+drag a widget axis

The selected instances will first be duplicated and then will move following the widget.

Delete key

The selected instances will be deleted.

End key

The selected instances will attempt to snap to the floor. They will be aligned to the normal if originally placed with this setting enabled.

Using the various Select buttons you can select all Foliage Mesh Actors, select any invalid Foliage Meshes or Deselect anything that is selected.

Lasso Tool

Lasso Tool

The Lasso tool allows you to select a number large or small number of Foliage meshes simultaneously. You can use the filter settings to ensure that you do not select Foliage meshes that are placed on certain objects. To select Foliage meshes, hold down the Right Mouse button and move the mouse around the scene. To de-select Foliage meshes, hold down the Shift key while painting. Once you have a selection, you can switch to the regular Select tool and do things like duplicate, move or remove Foliage meshes.

Lasso Tool

Fill Tool

Fill Tool

The Fill tool is used to cover an entire Static Mesh Actor in your level with the selected Foliage meshes. The Fill tool works a lot like the Paint tool with the key difference being that you can cover an entire Actor in Foliage in a single click. To use the Fill tool, press the Left Mouse button on the Static Mesh you want to be covered with foliage. The more mouse button clicks you make, the more Foliage will be added. To remove Foliage, hold down the Shift key and use the Left Mouse button to click on the Static Mesh you want to remove Foliage from.

If you are having issues getting Foliage meshes to erase with the Fill tool, make sure that you are clicking on the Actor that they are placed and not on the Foliage meshes that were added.


Because foliage instances are rendered as clusters in a single draw call, each cluster is either rendered or not rendered based on occlusion. If you set a value in the End Cull Distance parameter, the clusters will also be culled beyond that distance. However, this will cause groups of meshes to disappear abruptly as the entire cluster goes out of range.

This can be reduced by adding a Start Cull Distance parameter and then setting up the Material appropriately. In the vertex shader, a per-instance fading factor is calculated, which goes from 1.0 at the start distance to 0.0 at the end distance. This is accessible in the Material using a PerInstanceFadeAmount node. If you connect that to an opacity or masking value, you can use it to fade instances over a distance before they reach the Cull Distance End and are removed from rendering.

The example Material below multiplies the Material mask by the fading factor to thin out the foliage mesh's leaves until they completely disappear.

Culling Material Example


Static Mesh LOD is supported on foliage. There are a few caveats:

  • You should ensure your Static Mesh has only one entry in the Elements array (visible under LOD0).

  • Note that light and shadow maps are shared between all LOD levels, so all LODs need to use the same unwrapping.

  • Currently the entire cluster of instances change LODs simultaneously. We may add support for distance-based fading per instance in the future.


Each individual mesh instance has its own shadow and/or light map generated by Lightmass, and these are tiled together for each precomputed batch. There are several settings on the Static Mesh that should be checked for precomputed lighting to operate well with instanced foliage. Lightmass is less forgiving when generating shadow maps for instanced meshes, and incorrect settings could lead to black meshes after rebuilding lighting.

  • Light Map Coordinate Index - This must be set to a valid UV channel that has a unique UV unwrapping. The Static Mesh Editor's Generate Unique UVs feature, which you can access from the Window menu, can quickly generate a unique unwrapping.

  • Lightmap Resolution - This must be a small enough number so that all the shadow maps for instances in a single cluster (by default 100) can be tiled together without exceeding the maximum texture resolution (4094x4096).

Foliage Scalability

Foliage Static Meshes can use the Scalability System to increase or decrease the amount of Foliage Instances that are currently being rendered on screen. To add this functionality to your project you will need to do the following:

In Order to use the Foliage Painting mode, your level must contain either a Landscape Terrain or Static Meshes with Collision enabled.

  1. Right-click in the Content Browser. Under the Create Advanced Asset section, expand the Miscellaneous section and select the Foliage Type option.

  2. Input a name for the Foliage Type (for this example we are using FT_Box) and double-click on the FT_Box Foliage Type to open it.

  3. Once FT_Box is opened, expand the Mesh and Scalability sections.

  4. In the Content Browser select a Static Mesh (for this example we are using the Shape_Cube that comes with the Starter Content). In the FT_Box Foliage Type, under the Mesh section, drag the Shape_Cube from the Content Browser to the Mesh option.

  5. In the Scalability section of the FT_Box Foliage Type, click on the box that is next to Enable Density Scaling to allow the Scalability System access to this Static Mesh.

    The Enable Density Scaling option should typically only be enabled for detail foliage without collision such as small rocks and bushes. It should be disabled for Foliage Types with collision such as trees as the collision for removed instances will continue to exist in the game.

  6. In the Modes panel, select the Foliage Tool. Select and drag the FT_Box Foliage Type from the Content Browser to the area that says Drop Foliage Here.

  7. Select the FT_Box Foliage Type you placed in the Foliage Type list to select it. In the viewport, hold down the Left Mouse Button to begin painting the FT_Bo Foliage Type meshes onto a surface.

  8. On the Toolbar, click on the Play button to launch the level. Navigate to a location where Foliage has been added.

  9. You can control the density at which the Foliage is rendered by pressing the Backtick key (`) to open up the Console and entering the following command followed by a decimal number in the 0 to 1 range.

    • foliage.DensityScale

    Adjusting the Foliage Density Scale setting and seeing the results update in real time does not work in any of the Editor viewports. The only way to see the Foliage Density update in real time is to input the command while the project is in a game mode like PIE, Simulate, or Standalone.

Below, the density of the Foliage changes as the foliage.DensityScale setting is set to 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.9, 1.0.

Drag the slider to adjust the foliage.DensityScale setting from 0.1 to 1.0.